"A River in the Wilderness"
An ad in our local paper yesterday caught my attention - an area restaurant was advertising a special “Father’s Day” menu that featured “manly meals.” I wondered just exactly what a “manly meal” might look like and when I went to further explore the menu I discovered that “manly meals” mostly consisted of extra-large portions of “meat and potato” kinds of food.
That “Father’s Day” menu got me to thinking about the odd distinctions we often make between what is “manly” and what is “feminine,” what it means to be a “real man” and what constitutes a “real woman.” Supposedly women are gentle, nurturing and tender, exhibiting the virtues of compassion, kindness and forgiveness; whereas, men are “meat and potatoes” kinds of people, rugged, take-charge types, analytical, courageous, risk-takers, disciplinarians who are sometimes even harsh and judgmental.
As I see it, these gender distinctions are not only “stereotypical” but they may also be inherently “dangerous,” especially on a spiritual path.
For one thing, “God” is often depicted as a “manly man,” a “Heavenly Father” and because of this, “God” is far-too-often seen as an authoritarian school principal who must be obeyed, a distant judge to be feared.
These stereotypical gender distinctions may also keep men locked up within the confines of "ego." After all, a “manly man” must be strong which sometimes translates into keeping others at “arms-length” while on a life-journey that must be traveled hand-in-hand if deeper peace is ever to be found.
When I look at our common human condition, I actually think that kindness, compassion gentleness and forgiveness have little to do with feminine characteristics, nor do I think courage and boldness are particularly masculine traits.
We are most “fully human” when we have the courage to break out of the restrictions of a self-contained ego and give our selves for the welfare of others. We are most human when we exhibit the boldness of compassionate and are willing to take the risk of living a life of generous kindness in a culture of self-centered consumerism.
We are indeed "male" and "female" who travel the spiritual journey as human beings, walking together on a pathway toward becoming more fully human every day of our lives.
Many centuries ago Saint Paul wrote a canticle about what it means to be fully human - human beings are most human when they are most loving. Saint Paul went on to spell out what genuine “love” looks like:
Love never gives up on others.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have,
Love doesn’t have a swelled head,
doesn’t force itself on others,
isn’t always me-first.
Love doesn’t fly off the handle,
doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
doesn’t revel when others grovel.
Love takes pleasure in the flowering of the truth.
Love always looks for the best.
Love never looks back,
but keeps going to the end.
On the path of wisdom it’s not so important to be a real man or a real woman, what really counts is to be a real human.